Japan on Saturday marked the 75th anniversary of its surrender in the Second World War, with Emperor Naruhito expressing “deep remorse” over his country’s wartime actions at a sombre annual ceremony curtailed by the coronavirus pandemic.
Emperor Naruhito pledged to reflect on the war’s events and expressed hope that the tragedy would never be repeated.
“Reflecting on our past and bearing in mind the feelings of deep remorse, I earnestly hope that the ravages of war will never be repeated,” Emperor Naruhito said in a short speech at the event in Tokyo marking the 75th anniversary of Japan’s surrender on August 15 1945.
Amid virus fears and worries about the fading memories of the fast-ageing war generation, about 500 participants, reduced from 6,200 last year, mourned the dead with a minute of silence.
Masks were required, and there was no singing of the “Kimigayo” national anthem.
Emperor Naruhito has promised to follow in the footsteps of his father, who devoted his 30-year career to making amends for a war fought in the name of Hirohito, the current emperor’s grandfather.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, in a largely domestic-focused speech, said the peace that Japan enjoys today is built on the sacrifices of those who died in the war.
He pledged that Japan will reflect on lessons from history and will not repeat the war devastation.
Mr Abe stayed away from the shrine that honours convicted war criminals among the war dead.
He sent a religious offering, a gesture meant to avoid angering China and South Korea, which consider the Yasukuni shrine a symbol of Japan’s militarism.
Four members of his Cabinet did visit the shrine, the first ministerial visit in four years.
Among them was environment minister Shinjiro Koizumi, the son of former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi who repeatedly visited the shrine on different occasions, including his last visit as serving prime minister on August 15 2006 that sparked criticism from China and South Korea.
“We decide how we want to pay respects to the war dead. This should not be a diplomatic problem,” internal affairs minister Sanae Takaichi told reporters after praying at the shrine.
Kosaburo Tanaka, a martial arts association manager, travelled from Osaka to give thanks for Japan’s postwar peace.
“Japan hasn’t been in any war over the last 75 years and we were able to live peacefully. I think that’s all because of the spirits that rest here in Yasukuni. They protect the peace.”